Saturday, 16 May 2015

Politics: Whittaker's pledge: Cash for schools is my priority

Todmorden High and Calder High schools will be the top of Craig Whittaker’s priority list when he returns to Westminster next week.

Mr Whittaker reiterated his promise to address the appalling condition of the school buildings following his re-election as the Conservative MP for Calder Valley.

He said: “My priority for the Calder Valley, as it has been for the past five years, is to continue working hard as a good local constituency MP - looking at our schools, to keep badgering the government for money for Todmorden and Calder High School.”

He said the Prime Minister David Cameron has promised the money and that he will hold Mr Cameron to account on that promise.
Prior to his election in 2010, Mr Whittaker made the same promise to the people of Calder Valley, but was unable to secure funding for the project.

In February this year, Mr Whittaker mounted a rooftop protest at Todmorden High when it became clear that the school, along with Calder High, had been overlooked for funding from two different government schemes.

Andrew Whitaker, headteacher at Todmorden High, was critical of the last government’s failure to fund the much-needed repairs at his school, but welcomed Mr Whittaker’s commitment to the issue. He said: “Todmorden High School is a very good school with an outstanding group of students.

“Our whole community were therefore rightly disappointed that the previous coalition government decided not to allocate essential funding to transform our buildings.

“We therefore welcome the support from Craig Whittaker MP in working with all adults associated with the school as we continue to make every effort to ensure that we secure the very best resources for our very deserving community of students.”

Anthony Guise, headteacher at Calder High School, said he was pleased to hear Mr Whittaker will continue fighting for improvements, but criticised the government for allowing the school to fall into disrepair.

He said: “As one of the remaining state-maintained schools, it is appalling that we are still having to educate the children of the Calder Valley in buildings that are no longer fit for purpose.

“In 2010, the Local Authority identified £4.5 million of work that needed doing then.

“The level of investment required is sadly beyond the coffers of Calderdale Council, so to secure funding for even a major refurbishment would be a fantastic result for the Calder High community would be a major achievement and would have a major impact on the quality of experience we could provide,” he said. “I am committed to improving Calder High School, both inside and out and I am glad that Craig is prepared to continue fighting for the same end.”

Sue McMahon, National Union of Teachers divisional secretary for Calderdale, criticised Mr Whittaker’s “empty rhetoric”.

She said: “Despite being on the Education Select Committee, Craig Whittaker has had little influence or impact. He and his government have had five years yet have failed to deliver. Huge resources are having to be committed by Calderdale Council in order to patch-up both schools.

“Our young people and staff deserve buildings fit for the 21st century.

Coun Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group on Calderdale Council, welcomed Mr Whittaker’s priorities, but said the scheme for building new schools leaves local authorities with a lot of uncertainty.

:“If he can do that, great - but he said that last time,” he said.

“We don’t care where the money comes from or who delivers it, these schools should have had investment ten-years-ago.

“My worry now is that at least under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future there was a clear programme that said over time every school will either be rebuilt or refurbished.

“We seem to be back to this game of bidding for bits of money every year with no certainty as to what will be there which makes it incredibly difficult to plan ahead,” he said.

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